Coincidental Judaism and Humanism

Last night, we attended a program in which Theodora Klayman, a Holocaust survivor from Zagreb, Yugoslavia (now Croatia) spoke of her experiences. She and her family were members of a very small minority of Yugoslavs/Croations who were Jewish. Hers was an interesting, informative, and moving presentation, albeit one that left me a bit depressed and skeptical about the innate goodness of humanity. After her talk, a “question” from a right-wing zealot who tried to get her to endorse his bigotry and fear-mongering did nothing to improve my mood. Her response, the tone of which had to be apolitical due to her involvement with the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, though, gave rise to my most enthusiastic applause of the night and maybe any night heretofore.

Coincidentally, this morning I happened upon the writings of someone else dislocated by Hitler’s Nazis. In 1938, Abraham Joshua Heschel was arrested while living in Frankfurt and deported to Poland, where he spent several months teaching. Six weeks before the German invasion of Poland in 1939, he left for London, then to New York the following year. Heschel was well-regarded and well-known (but not to me) as a preeminent Jewish philosopher and theologian. The writing I came across is from his book, entitled, God in Search of Man: A Philosophy of Judaism.

Despite my absence of religious belief, I found this text from the book particularly intriguing:

“Religion declined not because it was refuted, but because it became irrelevant, dull, oppressive, insipid. When faith is completely replaced by creed, worship by discipline, love by habit; when the crisis of today is ignored because of the splendor of the past; when faith becomes an heirloom rather than a living fountain; when religion speaks only in the name of authority rather than with the voice of compassion—its message becomes meaningless.”

Another one I found interesting was this:

“We may assume it is God we care for, but it may be our own ego we are concerned with. To examine our religious existence is, therefore, a task to be performed constantly.”

These coincidental exposures to Jewish experience and thought come on the heels of listening to a presentation at the local Unitarian Universalist church a couple of weeks ago by a retired rabbi. These recent experiences hearing and reading about philosophies of religion and spirituality (and understanding some distinct differences between them) further convince me (though I did not need much convincing) that the non-deistic aspects of religious beliefs correspond almost precisely with humanism.

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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4 Responses to Coincidental Judaism and Humanism

  1. I love Viktor Frankl’s comments in the video, Juan; his lesson is to see and encourage the potential good in people, I think, thereby elevating them beyond what they otherwise are. His philosophical approach is far more spiritual than most philosophies I read in the dogma spread by certain organized religions.

  2. jserolf says:

    This is wonderful post. For me, it’s Victor Frankl…existentialist and denouncing religion, even as a Holocaust survivor.

  3. Thank you, Robin, both for the comment and for sharing the link to your post. I just read it and left a comment, What you wrote on your blog is wonderful literature, fabulous poetry; you carefully painted emotion with words.

  4. robin andrea says:

    This is such a beautiful post, John. I love the quotes and that you went to hear a holocaust survivor. I lost many family members to the holocaust. I spent a summer in 1978 with my sister-in-law’s parents who we holocaust survivors. I wrote post about it ten years ago. I love blogging!

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